In the summer of 2014, Shell began quiet negotiations with the Port of Seattle to establish a winter home for its fleet of oil platforms and ships. Shell’s aim is to explore and drill for oil in the Chukchi Sea, in a geologic formation known as the Burger Prospect, where up to 1 million barrels of oil per day await exploitation.
This “opportunity” has opened up because of global warming, caused in part by the burning of fossil fuels. In 2014, summer sea ice was at its lowest levels ever and is expected to disappear altogether by 2020, making exploration easier. The planet’s loss is Shell’s gain.
In January 2015, the port inked a deal with no public debate and little opposition among Port Commissioners, claiming the inevitability of Shell finding a home for its fleet somewhere else if not Seattle.
On May 14, the gigantic Polar Explorer drilling rig arrived in the port, the first of a fleet of vessels that will ultimately number 25. But a loose coalition of environmental and Native American activists called “Shell No!” have no intention of giving the energy goliath a warm welcome, or accepting the inevitability of Arctic drilling. Their anger is directed not only at Shell and the arrival of their drilling rig, but at the Port and its shady manner of signing a deal, as well as at the Obama administration, which gave approval to drilling in the Arctic in the first place. Making the agreement even slimier than it already seems, at least one Port Commissioner up for reelection received campaign contributions from one of the marine services firms who stood to gain from Shell’s presence in Seattle.
One method of disrupting operations was from the sea, as hundreds of “kayaktivists” banded their boats together around the drilling rig. Protestors also blocked operations from the land, and blocked the entrance to the Terminal for several hours. The Seattle City Council tried to slow Shell’s start up on a symbolic technicality, citing that the use permit for Terminal 5 was for cargo operations and not servicing of oil rigs. However, the penalty for lack of compliance to the permit is $500 a day, which is probably below the minimum ante in Shell executive’s weekly poker game.
Shell completed their preparations, and on June 15, the Shell fleet departed Seattle, but activists gathered on sea and land again to voice their opposition.
Determined opponents of Arctic drilling are sending a message to Shell that their operations in Seattle won’t be a stroll in the park. While Shell prefers Seattle because of available facilities, skilled labor and its strategic location, the multinational won’t hesitate moving to another locale if protestors cause a big enough stir. If Shell does relocate to another port for its winter home, let’s hope it receives the unfriendly welcome it deserves!
Retract all permissions for Arctic oil exploration and drilling!
Nationalize all forms of energy under workers control!
To listen to this and other articles from this issue, click here.